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Clever Questions - What is it like for you?

It still makes me chuckle, the day my business manager and I did a cleaning shift. Armed with a hoover each and rubber gloves we set about cleaning the rooms. Our aim was to clean everything on the checklist within the allotted time. I was determined. Sweat pouring like a river from my forehead as I frantically checked everything off the checklist. Like a gameshow competitor, I proudly hit the stopwatch ‘stop’ button and looked down at the time that I had achieved. I’d worked like a trojan to get all the items done as fast as I could. It was good and ten minutes faster than the business manager’s time from the room next door. But . . . it was still not in the time we had allocated for a room to be cleaned in. We had asked the cleaners, “what is it like for you?” They had told us, we can’t get it all done in the time we are allocated. They were right. As we had walked in their shoes and worn their marigolds, we now understood. We gave them more time and paid them more.

In reality as a leader, we very rarely get chance to do the role of another. We learnt last week that as a leader we don’t know it all and so we need to ask clever questions to make wise decisions. This week we need to realise that ‘I don’t know what it is like to be in their shoes’ and so we need to ask a clever question:

“What is it like for you?”

When we ask this question, it will help us

  • Gain a full perspective

  • Set the vision

  • Take people with us

Gain a full perspective

What was the benefit of the business manager and I doing the cleaning? We understood the issue. You see, prior to all of this, the teachers in the school where I was a headteacher had told us they were unhappy with the state of cleaning in their rooms. They were right, the rooms were not clean enough. So, we asked them, “what is it like for you?” They told us the things that were not clean and therefore not helpful to teach from. So, we established a checklist, the items to be cleaned and the standards required. And yet, despite this, the rooms were still not clean enough. We asked the question of the cleaners, ‘what is it like for you?’ They told us, there is not enough time. When we ask that question of each person involved in a situation, we get a more complete picture. We gain a fuller perspective.

Helps us set the vision

Strategic improvement, starts by understanding your current position and then setting the goal of where you want to be. By asking that clever question, ‘what is it like for you?’ of each group in our organisation, we can begin to understand all of the issues. What is working well and what needs to be better?

This question can be a question stem to gain a full understanding.

What is it like for you in your role?

What is it like for you with the resources that you have?

What is it like for you with your colleagues?

What is it like for you with your training?

What is it like for you to understand the vision we have?

When we fully understand each group, what it is like for them, it helps us to understand more of the actual current position, not what we think it is. We can then set what we want it to look like and know the distance that needs to be travelled for each group or person.

We take people with us

Seth Godin said that ‘Leadership was painting a picture of the future, go there and people will follow.’ In principle he is right, we can set the vision and model it and it will be so attractive that people want to follow. We are more likely though to take people with us when we truly understand what it is like for them. Patrick Lencioni said that the three elements of engaging people at work are when

  • They are known by the leader

  • They know what they do makes a difference

  • They know how to measure when they have been successful

When we ask the question, ‘what is it like for you?’ we get to know and understand them. They, in turn, feel valued and feel that they are known by the leader. Because we know them and their experience, we are more likely to be able to explain the vision to them in a way that they understand their place in it.

We don’t know what it is like to walk in their shoes but when we ask the clever question of, ‘what is it like for you?’ we enable all of our shoes to walk alongside each other’s.

Can we help you?

We hope this blog has been helpful and if you would like some more targeted support to explore what you don’t know then Everyday Leader is here to help you. Our clients find their coaching empowering, as we help them gain a full perspective and find a way forward. If you have a challenge and you would like our support, then do get in contact with us. Give us a call on 01449 710438 or email if you would like us to help you explore this and empower you.

Everyday Leader is here to empower, inspire and equip you. If we can help you find a way forward, through coaching, training or consultancy, do let us know. Contact us now:


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